Van Ens: Church is wrong to deny communion to Biden
Joseph Biden does not push aside his Christian faith, easily forgotten or avoided. Trust in Jesus grasps his heart. The president practices faith in Jesus that equips him to heal wounds, help hurting people and work to shrink racism.
On Memorial Day, President Biden honored U.S. war dead at Arlington National Cemetery. His face lined with sorrow, he approached the wreath at the monument as if he were walking on holy ground. The president’s hands cupped this greenery. With eyes tearing, Roman Catholic Biden made the sign of the cross.
Unlike John F. Kennedy, our nation’s only other Roman Catholic President who went out of his way not to emphasize his Catholicism, lest citizens fear he took orders from the Pope, Biden’s faith is front and center.
A day later, he attended ceremonies in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as the first president to acknowledge how a white mob massacred over 300 Blacks on May 31 and June 1, 1921, and then obliterated this tragedy from their collective memory. Biden commiserated with survivors’ trauma, still upsetting over a century after the massacre that left these Blacks citizens deprived of their God-given rights.
Biden promised to invest extensively in Black enterprises. He rallied Americans to confess with him “that for too long we’ve allowed a narrow, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester, the view that America is a zero-sum game, where there’s only one winner. If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If you get a job, I lose mine. And, maybe worst of all, if I hold you down, I lift myself up, instead of, if you do well, we all do well.”
His conscience guiding him, Biden follows Jesus. He does not regard every tenet of Roman Catholic dogma as infallible, which gets him in trouble with the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the U.S. Biden does not hold as non-negotiable to his Christian faith these bishops’ anti-abortion crusade. Nor does he agree with their condemnation of same-sex marriage and rights of the LGBTQ communities to live outside traditional family and gender norms.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairs the bishops’ committee on pro-life activities. Naumann believes the Roman Catholic Church should refuse Biden Holy Communion at Mass — the sacred act of eating bread and drinking wine, identified as Christ’s sacrificed body and blood.
Demanding Biden toe the official Roman Catholic line, Archbishop Naumann warns, “Because President Biden is Catholic, it (his abortion rights stance) presents a unique problem for us. It can create confusion. … How can he say he’s a devout Catholic and he’s doing these things that are contrary to the Church’s teaching?”
Denying Biden Communion has already occurred. Many traveling Christians on trips take a holiday from worshipping in churches but not our president. He attends when he is on the road. Visiting South Carolina in October 2019 while campaigning, Biden walked into the St. Anthony Catholic Church.
On the following day, St. Anthony’s priest briefed the press corps, reporting how he refused Biden Communion because the then-presidential candidate’s view on abortion did not conform to Roman Catholic standards.
Are anti-abortion teachings in the Bible as self-evident as Archbishop Naumann assumes they are? Jesus never directly deals with abortion. He is silent about specifics on same-sex relationships and LBGTQ rights.
Professor John J. Collins, who teaches Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School, declares the Bible neither specifically supports Archbishop Naumann’s rights of the fetus nor Biden’s rights of a pregnant women to chose aborting a fetus. The Bible does not deal directly with contemporary abortion conflicts.
Why is the Bible silent on today’s medical procedures for abortions, which the Roman Catholic Church opposes? Scripture is anchored in ancient history and culture. The Bible does recognize abortion as a natural, often sad, occurrence in a woman’s womb. This Act of Nature is called a “miscarriage,” the only type of abortion about which the Bible comments.
The Roman Catholic Church mistakenly takes the intricacies of contemporary abortions, couples them with the medical complexities regarding the fetus, and reads what we currently know into ancient biblical texts.
What if you were asked, “Does the Bible approve of a Christian getting an X-ray to find a cancerous lesion in the body?” You would correctly respond that biblical people knew little about cancer compared to modern medicine and did not perceive X-rays as a medical treatment. Similarly, the Bible does not give answers to often intractable, complicated questions about abortions with which we wrestle.
Denying Biden communion is more than a controversy arising from his stance on abortion rights. Political pressures force the bishops to follow the money trail more than moral discourse. Conservative donors demand that the church leans on Biden.
Stephen Millies, a professor of public theology at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, reveals why some bishops support denying Biden communion. Mega-buck donors, who supported former President Donald Trump through their philanthropy to the Roman Catholic Church, question Pope Francis’ conservative credentials and want Biden to pay for his “stolen election” over Trump. Always check out where the money flows when doctrinal disputes erupt in Christian churches.
Biden believes abortion is not a cut and dried matter of church law. It is a messy reality best dealt with by a pregnant woman, her doctor, along with supportive family members and religious officials who listen rather than legislate what she must decide.
The Roman Catholic bishops may oppose giving Biden Communion, but they cannot deny his Christian practice. The president’s trust in Jesus is more abiding and effective than ecclesiastical enforcers who make anti-abortion dogma the litmus test for Catholic faith.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.